Saturday, March 18, 2000

About me

What I do…

I’m VP of Product Management at Google for Google Apps. This includes Gmail, Calendar, Voice, Talk, Docs, Sites, Orkut, Picasa, Blogger, Reader... Official Google bio here..

Formerly I was VP of the Advanced Development Division at Yahoo! My teams included the Yahoo Developer Network (run by Chad Dickerson), the Advanced Products Group (run by Scott Gatz), Yahoo Research Berkeley (run by Ellen Salisbury), the Technology Development Group / Brickhouse (run by Caterina Fake), and the Methods & Practices Group (run by Gabrielle Benenfield.) In addition to the aforementioned all-stars, team members include some of the most uplifting, brightest, inspiring folks I’ve ever met including Jeremy Zawodny, Tom Coates, Simon Willison, Bill Scott, Paul Hammond, Edward Ho, Daniel Raffel, danah boyd, Cameron Marlow, Marc Davis,Mor Naaman, Ryan Shaw, etc, etc, etc!

How I got here…

When I was ten years old began programming simple if-then-else games in basic on burroughs mainframes.

Discovered the Apple ][ and TRS80 in high school made more complicated games in assembly language.

Discovered the “Anarchists Cookbook” when I was 15, which contained lots of subversive information like how to synthesize LSD from morning glory seeds, lock picking, etc.

When I was 16 my phreak friends and I broke into a telephone company van and borrowed a bunch of phone gear and manuals. We then used the “pup” we built to make free calls from any terminal box. We were caught in the basement of an office building. Using the “bored teen” defense, and upon review of our SAT scores, we got them to drop charges.

In my late teens, formed an “alternative” band, Spahn Ranch. (Note – there was a later industrial band named Spahn Ranch that got a lot more popular. That ain’t us.) As one of few “alternative” bands in Detroit in mid-eighties we played with Butthole Surfers, Jesus and Mary Chain, Nina Hagen, Sonic Youth, Savage Republic, Psychic TV, The Sugarcubes (Bjork), the Swans, etc. Released one vinyl LP “Thickly Settled” on Insight Records (out of Oakland CA) and toured the west and east coasts.

Also with my friend “Hardcore Jane” (who happened to be on the first plane that hit the WTC on 9/11) booked punk / alternative gigs, made flyers, worked the door, etc. for bands like Black Flag, Negative Approach, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Necros, Misfits, etc. Did a lot of graphic design on the early Macs for the flyers.

After goofing off in college for my first two years at umich, rediscovered computers just as networked workstations were emerging mid- to late 80s. These were Apollos, and later Suns. I remember my first experience telnet’ing to another machine that I think was in Tennessee and realizing this was going to be fun.

Adopted a few very cool grad students and professors as mentors, and they let me hang out and get access to machine time in return for writing menial programs for the benefit of the umich AI Lab (writing thing like robotics controllers and calibration software for liquid nitrogen cooled digital cameras.) Some of the cool folks I hung out with were Spencer Thomas (who wrote the Utah Raster Toolkit), Ramesh Jain (who I later co-founded a company with), Brian Schunk, Terry Weymouth, and Emmett Leith (father of holography).

But one of my biggest influences was a genius hacker/cracker dude who was my best friend through college, Martin Friedmann. Martin was off-the-charts brilliant and totally subversive. The one true genius I’ve had occasion to know. Martin killed himself ten years ago, but is still a big influence on me. I learned more about responsible coding and hacker ethic by looking over his shoulder than I can express. It’s a shame that he didn’t live to see how the web is playing out.

I went to MIT Media Lab for grad school ‘89. Worked on computer vision and graphics under Sandy Pentland. We (me, Martin Friedmann (above), Stan Sclaroff, Irfan Essa and Thad Starner) built ThingWorld. Thingworld was a distributed realtime virtual reality system with full physical simulation (gravity, friction, etc.) You and a buddy could sit at workstations across the word and pull on piece of virtual clay that would deform like taffy, and then bounce realistically when you threw it. Very much like SecondLife but without as many triangles on our circa ’89 processors ;-)

Did a lot of work in machine vision, including things like recovery of non-rigid structure and motion from sequences (using the same superquadric primitives from Thingworld) and later face recognition (building on Pentland and Turk’s eigenface work.)

Got Masters degree, and dropped out of the PhD program, moved to Bay Area and cofounded Virage. Virage’s basic premise was to squeeze metadata out of opaque multimedia objects using advanced analysis. We were technophiles without a clue for business. With the VC investment we got adult supervision (Paul Lego, CEO.) At our peak, Virage powered the video on AOL, CNET, ABCNews, Major League Baseball, etc. A pretty good fraction of the streaming video on the ‘net was powered through our shop. We also built the system that gets CNN headline news on the air (and shared an Emmy for it.)

Virage is a big ten year chunk of my bio, but suffice it to say I learned all the important startup lessons about how to make something from nothing, hire good people, fire bad people, interact with VCs, press, analysts, etc. I often think that the many mistakes we made were more valuable (personally, not financially) than if we’d just jumped on a rocket ship to success. I’m a big fan of iterate and refine, i.e. learning from mistakes vs. analysis paralysis… Virage was eventually acquired by Autonomy.

I joined Yahoo! in May of 04, as Director of Multimedia Search product (image, audio, video), and later took on both Yahoo! Desktop Search and the Yahoo! Toolbar. I helped create Yahoo Research Berkeley, and helped get Marc Davis, Cameron Marlow, danah boyd and the rest of the talented team into that facility… Helped get Raymie Stata over to Yahoo, something I celebrate on a daily basis. And pitched in to help get the Flickr deal done, working to convince Stewart and Caterina that the Yahoo! option made sense. And will forever be either hero or goat to them depending on how things go. (That particular day.)

Inspired by Jeff, formed the TechDev (Technology Development) Group in the Search & Marketplace Group at Yahoo. Our charter is intentionally vague, and unfolds day to day… Some of the coolest, smartest, nicest and most subversive Yahoos found a home in this group: Caterina, Jeremy, Chad, Tom, Simon, Niki, Pasha… (Email me if you believe you belong on this list.) We work furiously to make Yahoo! a better place, and help Yahoo to do “The Right Thing.” We sponsor things like “Hack Day“, invite cool (Mark Pauline, Chris Anderson, Philip Rosedale, Guy Kawasaki, etc.) speakers to Yahoo, build cool mashups like the Event Browser, etc. The other half of TechDev is Yahoo Research Berkeley, a center for Social Media Research. Read all about it here.